Set in former Czechoslovakia amid dramatic events of the 1950s is a gripping crime narrative that ultimately intervenes in the fates of the characters and their loved ones. Captain Hakl is investigating a jewelery store heist. Thanks to behind-the-scenes scheming on the part of the secret police though, a run-of-the-mill burglary becomes a political affair. The aim is to avert attention from much more significant events that the communist dictatorship has underway for its people. On the orders of State Security, Hakl’s investigation is taken over by Major Zenke, an East German police specialist, under whose leadership it is shown that the stolen gold was meant to support the Jewish community in “financing Zionist terrorism”. But Hakl’s experienced instincts as a criminologist are discovering an altogether different story, and he continues in the investigation on his own. Can one just man withstand a struggle with the well-connected network of the communist police? The adversary is powerful, and Hakl soon finds out he can believe nothing and no one. Hanging over everyone is a shadow of their past, of their weaknesses, that can make a culprit of a victim and a hero of a culprit. The story of In the Shadow of the horse is first and foremost a suspenseful detective story, the historical context of which, however, makes it a timeless exploration of the extent to which one individual can stand up against the organised forces of evil, banded together into a state mechanism. Captain Hakl is an old school policeman, a fellow for whom fighting crime is more than just a job, and evidence is the only indicator of truth. An everyday theft though, the kind he’s dealt with scores of times, starts a chain of events in which the old, tried and tested police methods no longer work, and the truth could have many faces.

“In the Shadow of the horse is a film noir. It is a historical detective film set in Prague in the year 1953,” says director David Ondříček of his upcoming movie. “I would like to make a suspenseful film with a distinct look that corresponds to the atmosphere of the day. I don’t want to historicize; I want the story to speak to the modern viewer, for the characters to be tangible, believable, contemporary,” he says, adding: “If I were to name three films that have inspired me in this regard, they would be Psycho, Blade Runner and Seven. The early 1950s is one of the darkest times in Czechoslovak history. Communism was consolidating its power, Soviet advisors were overseeing the founding of the State Security bureau. People were disoriented and afraid. Rain, dark corners, frequent power blackouts, help create the atmosphere of a film noir.”

In the lead roles of In the Shadow of the horse’s irreconcilable adversaries are four-time Czech Lion winner Ivan Trojan and one of the most popular European actors of today, star of the Oscar-winning drama The Lives of Others, Sebastian Koch.

“In the Shadow of the horse is an exceptional opportunity for Ivan Trojan. We haven’t seen him on the big screen in four years and in this film he is essentialy never off the screen. Captain Hakl is a multi-layered character who undergoes a substantial character development,” explains director David Ondříček of the choice of the two lead actors. “Sebastian Koch astounded me in The Lives of Others. I contacted him and producer Kryštof Mucha and I met with him in Berlin. Sebastian chooses his films carefully. We had an emotional discussion for five hours. He reminds me of Ivan in the way he prepares.”

In other roles we see Soňa Norisová as Hakl’s wife Jitka, David Švehlík in the role of Hakl’s police partner Běňo, also Marek Taclík, Jiří Štěpnička, Norbert Lichý, Martin Myšiček, Miroslav Krobot and others.

The cinematographer was Adam Sikora from Poland, a long-standing collaborator for leading Polish directors like Jerzy Skolimowski and Lech Majewski. “Adam is truly an uncompromising artist – in Poland he they call him the Prince of Darkness,” says David Ondříček.